Wine on Starchefs
Jill Gubesch
Frontera Grill
and Topolobampo
445 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60610
Phone: 312-661-1434
Fax: 312-661-1830

Wine Tips: Jill Gubesch, Sommelier, Topolobampo, Chicago

Wine offers more thrilling complexity than any other beverage – more intricate layerings of aroma, more diversity of flavor, more spirit. Which means wine is absolutely the most perfect match for the complex, varied dishes Mexico’s classic cooks have turned out for centuries. Here’s a guide to classic Mexican flavors and wines that harmonize with them, which I’ve put together in collaboration with our Executive Chef Rick Bayless.

Achiote – uniquely aromatic, earthy, orange-red spice that defines Yucatecan specialties. Explore Chianti Classico to match achiote’s eathiness.

Ancho Chile – ruby-red heart-shaped dried chile, medium to mild, with dried fruit/dried tomato flavors. Very wine friendly: Tempranillo, Northern Rhone Syrah (smoky, earthy) or Australian Shiraz (jammy).

Cascabel Chile – smallish round brick-red dried chile, medium to spicy (back-palate heat), with earthy nuttiness. Explore California Pinot Noir for its soothing, lingering fruit.

Chipolte Chile – smoke-dried jalapeño, quite spicy, backed up with welcome sweetness. Explore Argentine Malbec (rich, forward fruit with smoky, earthy finish) and Tempranillo from Spain’s Ribera del Duero (fuller than Rioja).

Epazote – pungent herb with piney aroma used extensively in Central, Southern, and Eastern Mexico. Explore Argentine Torrontes (floral notes) or New Zealand Pinot Noir (bright, lively fruit).

Escabeche – tangy, aromatic blend of vinegar, olive oil, rich broth, herbs, and sweet spices. Explore New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for its ripe fruit and crisp, clean finish.

Guajillo Chile – light cranberry-red, long, smooth-skin dried chile, medium to spicy, with a bright liveliness (some say it’s “aggressive”). Explore California or Languedoc Syrah (supple, forward fruit to balance heat).

Habanero Chile – lantern-shaped chile, amazingly spicy, with thrilling tropical flavors. Explore New World Chardonnay or Viognier (both typically tropical, fruity).

Hoja Santa – bold herb with alluring sasparilla and anise flavors integral to Southern and Gulf Coastal food. Explore Riesling or Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) to match the sweet anise.

Huitlacoche – inky-colored, earthy-sweet corn mushroom that is a delicacy in Central Mexico. Explore Tempranillo or full-bodied Pinot Noir (French of California) for their earthy fruitiness.

Lime – as essential as salt in Mexican cooking; featured grandly in the lime-marinated fish called ceviche. Explore Oregon Pinot Gris or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc for a crisp, fruity balance.

Pasilla Chile – very dark, long, dried chile, medium spicy, with deep flavors that hint at (yes!) bitter chocolate and coffee. Explore Zinfandel (rich, spicy fruit), Chilean Cabernet blends (dark fruit, soft tannins).

Poblano Chile – large, dark-green chile, medium spicy, with rich, complex earthy flavors. Explore Austrian Grüner Veltliner, Moscatel, or dry Riesling (all have welcome citrus flavors).

Serrano or Jalapeño Chile – fresh green chiles, medium to spicy, with fresh bright-green punch. Explore Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc (grassy freshness) or Oregon Pinot Gris (more fruit, but great acidity).

Tomatillos – green husk “tomatoes” usually roasted to add sweet richness to their citrus tartness. Explore Côtes du Rhône, lighter California Syrah (soft, youthful fruit), or Alsatian Riesling (fruity with good minerality).

Tomatoes – sweet/tart red icons, usually roasted to add unexpected depth and sweet complexity. Explore Sangiovese or Barbera (their brightness matches the tomato flavors).

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 Published: July 2004